The Giro d’Italia has previously raced on gravel roads, planks and islands, but when the 2015 race starts on Saturday in Liguria it will be the first time the organiser has run a stage on a bike path.
The Italian Riviera will host the opening stage, a team time trial, from San Lorenzo al Mare to San Remo on bike paths that it created from abandoned railway lines. The Riviera dei Fiori bike path will span 60 kilometres when completed.
The Liguria region is using the Giro’s start partly to promote cycling. It hosts the first four stages, but the first one, a 17.6-kilometre team time trial, is the only one on a bike path.
Because of its former use by Italy’s trains or the Ferrovie dello Stato, the path is narrow and instead of corners, features slow bends. When the nine-man teams are not fighting for space on the two to three-metre wide surface, they will be zipping west towards San Remo, finish of the spring classic Milan-San Remo.
Lights illuminate the one tunnel near the start in San Lorenzo. Afterwards, the path continues along the south-facing coast through Arma di Taggia, below Poggio and its famous climb, and into San Remo. Only the last 500 metres are back on normal roads.
A team time trial also kicked off the 2014 Giro d’Italia last year in Belfast. There, the teams had wide roads, but some struggled with the wet surface. Overall favourite, Irishman Dan Martin abandoned on the opening day due to a crash with three of his Garmin team-mates.
In 2013, Sir Bradley Wiggins helped team Sky win stage two on the island of Ischia in Naples’s harbour. His Italian team-mate Salvatore Puccio took the pink jersey thanks to the team’s victory.
The Giro regularly has the odd stage, especially when it comes to time trials.
When the Giro began in San Remo in 1987, it did so with an eight-kilometre individual time trial down the famous Poggio. Stephen Roche won the stage and paved the way to his overall win. The Giro ran time trials on gravel roads, the uphill stage to Plan de Corones, and over ramps and floating bridges in Venice.
In 1936, the time trial from Padova to Venice was not held on normal roads, but on a new highway. The roads were smooth and fast for the riders: Giuseppe Olmo won at over 40km/h, and at the time it served as a showcase for modern fascism. That Padova-Venice stretch was the last of the first autostrade constructed in Italy, together with Milan-Laghi (1924), Milan-Bergamo (1927), Naples-Pompei (1929), Turin-Milan (1932) and Florence-Seaside (1932-33).
Team time trials began in 1937, team Legnano won the first at 43.91kph, and regularly appeared in the 1950s. CSC blasted into the record books with the fastest average speed, going 56.86km/h in 2006.
This year’s will be the 24th time for the Giro to feature a team time trial, and the first for any of its stages since 1909 on a bike path.
Cycling Weekly’s Giro d’Italia 2015 preview, including a look ahead to the opening TTT stage
The Giro d’Italia’s team time trials and their winners
1937: Viareggio – Marina di Massa, 60km, at 43.902km/h (Legnano)
1953: Autodromo di Modena, 30km, at 47.729km/h (Bianchi)
1954: Circuito Monte Pellegrino (Palermo) – 36km, at 42.942km/h (Bianchi)
1955: Genova – Genova, 18.4km at 46.674km/h (Torpado)
1956: Genova – Genova, 12km at 43.910km/h (Leo – Chlorodont)
1981: Lignano – Bibione, 15km at 51.282km/h (Hoonved – Bottecchia)
1982: Milano – Milano, 16km at 50.130km/h (Renault)
1983: Brescia – Mantova, 70km at 53.984km/h (Bianchi Piaggio)
1984: Lucca – Marina di Pietrasanta 55km, at 51.388km/h (Renault)
1985: Busto Arsizio – Milano, 38km at 54.545km/h (Del Tongo – Colnago)
1986: Catania – Taormina, 50km at 46.260km/h (Del Tongo – Colnago)
1987: Lerici – Lido di Camaiore, 43km at 54.486km/h (Carrera)
1988: Rodi Garganico – Vieste, 40km at 47.524km/h (Del Tongo – Colnago)
1989: Villafranca Tirrena – Messina, 32.5km at 52.702km/h (Ariostea)
2006: Piacenza – Cremona, 35km at 56.860km/h (CSC)
2007: Caprera – La Maddalena, 25.6km at 45.670km/h (Liquigas)
2008: Palermo – Palermo, 23.6km at 53.366km/h (Slipstream Chipolte)
2009: Lido di Venezia – 20.5km at 56.336km/h (Team Columbia)
2010: Savigliano – Cuneo, 33km at 54.073km/h (Liquigas – Doimo)
2011: Venaria Reale – Torino, 19.3km at 55.186 km/h (HTC – Highroad)
2012: Verona, 33.2km at 53.741km/h (Garmin-Barracuda)
2013: Ischia, 17.4km at 46.275km/h (Sky)
2014: Belfast, 21.7km at 52.712km/h (Orica-GreenEdge)